- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2009

Here’s a good rule of thumb to determine if the driver of the car behind you is too close: If you can look in your rear-view mirror and read the headline of the newspaper he’s reading, he’s too close.

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The technology Web site Ars Technica had a report last week saying that researchers have mixed spider silk with metallic atoms to increase the already significant strength of spider webs.

The experiment boosts the knowledge of making stronger materials and could lead to bonding metal to biological materials. Scientists already are looking at ways to make chicken eggs stronger.

Stronger spider webs. I didn’t know we needed stronger spider webs. Of course, now we’ll need stronger spiders to spin them. Bigger, stronger spiders.

OK, now I’m starting to get creeped out.

Are these guys nuts? Have they never read a comic book or seen a science-fiction movie? This kind of experimentation always ends badly. Just ask Dr. Octopus!

Scientists have created a spider web so strong that it can bind a man indefinitely. They know this because Larry the arachnologist has been wrapped up in his work for a week.

Now, they’re trying to make a chicken egg so strong that it can’t be broken. That’s useful.

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I had a weird dream the other night.

I was house-sitting for David Letterman, and he asked if I would keep an eye on his penguin, too.

I felt apprehensive because I’m not what you would call an “animal person,” even in my dreams. But I said OK because, how much trouble could a little penguin be? Besides it was Dave asking. (I called him “Dave” in the dream.)

Unfortunately, he didn’t have a Chilly Willy-type of penguin but one of those huge emperor penguins, and this one marched and saluted everywhere it went. It stood about 4½ feet tall, and looked like it was 150 pounds of solid muscle.

And it had a glint in its eye as if it were itching for a fight.

So I was sitting in Dave’s massive living room with his massive penguin, when I noticed that the bird had a bottle of champagne under a wing. It wasn’t some cheap imitation from California. This was real French champagne, which made sense to me because wouldn’t you expect David Letterman’s penguin to have the good stuff?

Still, I had never house-sat while watching a penguin before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I looked away for a moment, and when I turned back, the penguin was chugging the champagne like a frat boy at a toga party. I didn’t even hear the cork pop.

It was the fastest penguin I had ever seen. Before I could react, the penguin had polished off the bottle without spilling a drop, then started wobbling around the room.

“Oh great,” I thought. “What do you do with a drunken penguin?”

Just then the penguin started to get sick, but it came out as a clear, fresh liquid with a couple of small, live fish in it trying to swim upstream. Like in a cartoon but in real life.

That was when I got scared and ran across the hall into Dave’s office, where he was doing aerobics in a green track suit. (I know, I know. Why was I house-sitting at David Letterman’s home if he was in the house the whole time? I don’t know.)

I told Dave that his penguin had a bottle of champagne. “You didn’t let him drink it, did you?” he said nervously. I nodded.

We ran into the living room and found the penguin on a divan with the empty bottle under a wing, rocking back and forth and singing what was probably a popular drinking song in Antarctica. The stream and the little fish were gone, and everything seemed to be “normal.” Dave was relieved, but I was distraught.

You’re probably weirded out by my account, but think about how I feel. My dream job is house-sitting with David Letterman’s alcoholic penguin.

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The BBC reported last week that astronomers searching for an Earth-like planet have found a near contender — Gilese 581 e.

The planet, in the Libra constellation, is about twice the size of Earth. Other planets found outside our solar system are as big as, or bigger than, Jupiter.

Gilese 581 e is too close to its sun to sustain life, and astronomers are continuing their search for Earth’s double.

So Gilese 581 e isn’t really Earth’s twin. It’s more like a second cousin. Once removed.

If they ever do find Earth’s twin, can you imagine the sibling rivalry at their reunion? “Mom always liked you best, Gilese!”

I hope that Earth doesn’t have a twin. Because a universe that has two O.J. Simpsons, two Rod Blagojevichs and two “Dancing With the Stars” isn’t a universe I want to be a part of.

•••


Some people have asked me why I walk around the office in my socks.

Well, I feel more relaxed and more creative without shoes on, and I can concentrate better.

Besides, I’ve got some really nice socks — gold toe, stretchy dress socks. Go all the way up to the knee.

•••


Popular Science has an interesting little article titled “Make Quick Money on the Web.”

It offers five suggestions on how to make some cash on the Internet. The suggestions include working for the Knowledge Generation Bureau, creating domain names and becoming an online critic.

I say, that’s a good start, but Popular Science is thinking way too small. There are other ways to make a lot of cash on the Internet. For instance:

• Start your own counterfeiting operation. You will be making money. Literally.

• Move to Nigeria and send an e-mail to everybody else in the world asking for money so you can leave.

• Win an Internet-based lottery. The winnings are usually announced as British pounds, not U.S. dollars, so you’ll have to convert.

• Organize a Ponzi scheme.

Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.

You can reach Carleton Bryant at 202/636-3218 and cbryant@washington times.com — but only without a restraining order.

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